In the latest Dreamwidth news post, it was asked how people would feel about using NNTP to access Dreamwidth. NNTP itself is a very old protocol from before the Web (although it can use HTML for its posts thanks to various features implemented later in some newsreaders), and as such, a lot of people are wondering why Dreamwidth users would be interested in using such old technology.
Let me phrase the question another way. How would you feel if you could have a client for DW that not only allowed you to post, but allowed you to read posts and comments using an interface much like a threaded email client? How about if that client kept track of the posts/comments you read, and alerted you when there were new comments to read?
A newsreader can do all that and more. Here's a screenshot of my favourite newsreader, Pan, running under Windows 7, showing a typical newsgroup (click for a larger picture):
(Okay, okay, so this isn't a typical newsgroup. The typical newsgroup is overrun by spam nowadays. But let's just pretend spam didn't exist, like in alt.anagrams.)
I'll describe the interface here. There is a toolbar at the top with various buttons for interacting with posts and comments (or, to use the NNTP nomenclature, "articles" and "threads"), such as making a new post or comment, getting new posts/comments from the server, going to the next unread post, going to the next unread comment, and filtering the display to show only certain posts/comments.
On the left is a sidebar containing a group list, and it currently shows the list of groups that I'm 'subscribed' to. (I'm putting it in quotes because this aspect of the proposed scheme will trip some people up, so I'm going to describe it further below.) At the top it has a drop-down for whether you want to see a list of every group the server carries, or just the ones you're 'subscribed' to, and it has a text box for searching the list.
The main area of the screen is split into two; at the top, it shows the posts and comments in the currently selected group, which is "alt.anagrams". Those which you have already read are unbold and grey, while unread posts/comments are bold, and for each post/comment it shows you its subject, the number of lines the message has, the author of the message, and the date it was posted. (There's also a column 'Score'; in Pan you can set it up to automatically score some messages up or down depending on the content.) It also has a drop-down at the top (although I'm not exactly sure what it does...) and a text box for searching the current group.
The second part of the main area, at the bottom, shows you the contents of the selected post/comment. In this case it's a post from "Jon Gearhart", which was made on 10 November 2010, with a title of "Tomorrow is..." and a body of "Veteran's Day=Dearest Navy". (the group alt.anagrams is, as you might suspect, a group where people create anagrams. :D)
Finally, at the very bottom is a status bar telling you what Pan is doing right now. Which, in this screenshot, is absolutely nothing. ;p
Now, I want to talk a little about the differences between this proposed NNTP server and 'normal' NNTP servers. One thing that will catch out many people not used to NNTP will be the notion of 'subscribed' groups. With newsreaders, 'subscribing' to a group is something that only takes place on your computer. Newsreaders will then ask the server for the contents of your subscribed groups, one by one; the server doesn't know which groups you're 'subscribed' to.
Secondly, while normal news servers will give you a list of all the groups on the server, with the Dreamwidth version will only show you the journals, communities, and feeds in your circle. If you want to add something to the list, you'll need to go and add them to your circle via the web interface.
When you first connect to the server and download the list, your newsreader will show you that you do not 'subscribe' to any of them. You would have to go to view the list of 'all' groups (really just the list of accounts in your circle) and then 'subscribe' to the ones you want to keep up with.
In the proposed implementation, the "group names" used for accounts will look something like "dreamwidth.personal.sophie" or "dreamwidth.community.dw_news".
Hopefully this helps you to understand how this might affect you! If anybody has any questions about how a newsreader works, I'll do my best to answer them. Also, nobody will *have* to use this, of course - it'd be there if you wanted to, but nothing is changing elsewhere. :)
[edited 2011-03-27 to correct a typo.]